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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ONE YEAR AFTER COPENHAGEN: Nigeria and her climate troubles

     The word 'trouble' is not a stranger to Nigerians, in fact it is one of the many words used by millions of mouths everyday. Whether you are in Lagos or Kano, Port Harcourt or Kaduna it is still the same. In most of these occasions the word is used to refer to conditions like poverty, insecurity, election rigging, Nigerian banking mess, and Nigerian economic conundrum, but little is said with regard to Nigerian climate problems. The reason for this may not be unconnected with the devastating imprint poverty has made on Nigerians minds. Government on her part has little regard for climate problems. The money accruing to the government is being used to settle other economic problems not necessarily more important than climate problems. The cost that our attitude to climate is causing Nigeria is enough for government policy makers especially her Economists and Environmentalists to reconsider their stand on the issue. About a year ago, a world gathering of environmentalists, investors, energy experts, economists, and scientists converged at Copenhagen (Denmark) to brain storm on climate change. The major issue at stake was climate change - its impacts, economics, and politics. Other world gatherings and pact signing events of this dimension were staged in the past. There was the Kyoto protocol adopted at the earth summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), otherwise known as United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and before that there was the Montreal (Canada) protocol of 1987 designed to prevent the use of ozone-depleting gasses. This year’s gathering is taking place at Cancun (Mexico) another familiar location for this kind of global gatherings.  As was expected nothing concrete came out of the Copenhagen, but disagreements and the endless blame game and finger pointing, particularly between the world two major emitters, the United States and China. There was the difference between the developing world and the developed countries that centered on climate economics. The developing countries saw it as the responsibility of the rich countries to cut on their emissions and pay the global cost of preventing climate change. It was argued that rich countries were responsible for over 200 years of carbon emission.  Rich countries, on the other hand, have accused poor countries of massive deforestations, environmentally harmful agricultural practices, and the use of old manufacturing plants known for their excessive emissions of CO2.

     Here in Nigeria, we have one of the most complex scenarios of any developing nation; with population of over 150 million people, and about 70% of this number living below poverty line, any big environmental disaster will have catastrophic impact on our nation. That is why Nigeria has to look more critical at climate change. Take for instance the fast approaching desert here in the north; tell me how that will not temper with the socio-economic setting of people living north of the Niger? Desertification is one of the major causes of poverty in the North. With about 70% of our people depending on farming, anything that reduces farm output will increase poverty. Then there is the excessive heat, the temperature in Illela, Sokoto state is as intolerable as in the desert, while water is a scares commodity. Illela is a local government head quarters with about three bank branches, custom and immigration bases. But despite this low rainfall and decreasing crop yield, Illela farmers have continued to plant something in the ground. This practice remain, year in year out, despite the obvious fact that every year half the seeds put in the ground end up been burnt by drought and excessive heat. The same excessive heat is found in Sokoto, Katsina, Damaturu and Maiduguri all state capitals in the North. One sad development about Heat and desertification in the North is that only few states have concrete work-out plan on how to approach the problem. The only thing one continues to hear now and then is the annual ceremonies of lunching tree planting campaigns, accompanied by the empty promises of planting hundred thousands of trees. Most of the cases of diseases outbreak in the North have their root in this climate problem. The last out break of cholera in the north eastern part of the country kill hundreds of people. The difficult economic condition obtainable in that part of the country helped in heightens the degree of the cholera spread. Due to the harsh environment in our rural areas few qualified medical personal manage to live in those places. The few that remains are low skill personals with no better alternative. As a result of these you have a vicious circle of poverty-diseases-desert encroachment re enforcing one another. When one crosses river Niger down to the south of Nigeria, one will find out that they have their own peculiar difficulties. Apart from the Oil spillage in the Delta, and deforestation that made way for urbanization and development of logging industries, there is the possibility of ocean over flooding coastal communities and major cities. The economic consequences of these are enormous taking into account the important contributions our coastal communities are making to Nigeria economy. Just imaging how much it will cost to reclaim some portions of these areas after been taking over by sea water. It will run into billions of Dollars, money that should have been better invested some where else. Though this is a distance possibility, with climate change anything is possible.

    What roles should Nigeria play in the global efforts to tackle climate change? As a poor developing country Nigeria cannot adopt, for example, the approach (sluggishly) being adopted by rich nations. It has been suggested that countries should stop using old manufacturing machineries that produces large quantities of Carbon Dioxide. With their advance technologies, rich countries can afford to substitute high carbon emission machines for low carbon emission ones. After all they have the financial muscle to organize space missions. Although the developed nations have been moving away from high carbon manufacturing for some time now, for us we cannot phase out our high carbon emission plants. Taking this path will mean stopping the production of cements, oil productions in the Niger Delta, our thermal power plants, and numerous industries in Lagos and Kano. This will slow our GDP grow rate, increase unemployment, double our inflation rate and reduces the inflow of foreign direct investment. But there are numerous other things we can do to help the course of climate change movement. Number one on this list is tree planting. It is argued that if poor countries cannot cut on their CO2 emission, they can, alternatively, contribute by planting trees that absorbs CO2 away from the atmosphere. Apart from the immediate benefits of holding desertification, beautification of environment, and provision of food, it has the long to medium term effects of reducing the global heat and increasing the quantity of rainfall. The cost of this activity when compared to the benefits to be derived is very insignificant.  Apart from other obstacles to this campaign, the main threat to tree planting campaign in this country is corruption. When you have a leadership that is eager to steal, anything can be compromised. Some studies conducted on economics of corruption in Nigeria have found it to be the main obstacle to realization of Nigeria’s economic targets.

  Our people must be sensitized on the need to move from use of fire wood for cooking to other energy efficient cooking methods. That is where Non governmental organizations and energy research centers come in. I am aware that in the past Sokoto energy research centre of the Usmanu Dan Fodio University was in the forefront of this campaign. This year (6-9, December) the university is organizing an international conference to discuss climate change.  There are some handful numbers of NGOs who are campaigning on this, in Kano I know of Youth and environmental development association (YEDA). If we can have our NGOs to be committed to this course the same way they are dead serious about HIV/AIDS and Family planning, the better for us. In other locations around the world Non profit Green organizations are in the forefront of reforestation campaigns. These NGOs, for example, provide the money to pay local communities for planting of trees or for not cutting the existing ones to make fire woods. Nigeria does not have to wait for foreign governments or donor agencies to pay her villagers for planting these trees. Neither should Nigeria wait for our corrupt political leadership; her very wealthy individuals and the not so wealthy can fill this gap. The Dangotes, Otudolas, Dantatas, Adenugas, Jimoh Ibrahims, Isiyaka Rabius, etc., can help with the money needed to pay these villagers. But for those with no money, they can take part in the physical planting of the trees. Our big corporations should, as part of their corporate social responsibility, bankroll noble causes such as this. I will suggest the establishment of environmental development bank by the federal government. As for our thermal power plants, that cannot provide us with the needed power supply despite polluting our environment, the wise thing to do is to reduce our reliance on them and gradually move towards renewable energy sources like Nuclear, Winds, Solar, and Ocean waves.